We’ve got some new guests with us at the moment. They were invited on the basis that they would contribute to the Quinta, either by providing food or by working on the land. We spent a considerable time preparing the accommodation for their arrival, which also involved some expense, which certainly wasn’t chickenfeed!

So far, the guests have been rather disappointing. We’ve had diddly squat from them food wise and very little evidence of work on the land. They are both nice and can be funny and engaging, but they are just not contributing much at all. We certainly didn’t envisage having to subsidise their stay with us. ‘Her Outdoors’ met them through her Mosaic group. Their previous host didn’t like them, because they made too much noise, were quite smelly and were shitting all over the place, to put it mildly. Admittedly one of them is quite old, so a bit of incontinence is understandable, but it’s not exactly polite behaviour, is it? They do it anywhere, even when they are being watched!

We need to decide how we deal with them. I’ve marked out garden areas that we want them to work on, but each time I wander out, they are either loitering under the shade of a tree, or one of them is on top of the other. ‘Her Outdoors’ and myself are quite broad minded but, while we have quite a large, secluded garden, that sort of behaviour is intolerable.

The problem is that no-one else will house them. They don’t have an income, have very few skills and are not really trainable. I had a heart to heart talk with them, explaining our reason for inviting them to stay with us and what we expected from them. Annoyingly, they both started ‘clucking’ at me so I told them straight,  “Start laying eggs, or you‘re going in the pot!”

Okay, that might sound a tad harsh or unexpected, but that’s one of the pleasures of creative writing. It does, however, raise all sorts of moral and ethical questions, none of which I’m touching on in this blog. Instead, I’m concentrating on the fun element of keeping chickens.

‘Her Outdoors’ and I have talked many times about keeping chickens, something she did before we met. She had a brood of silkie bantams which she loved, her favourite being ‘Buttercup’. Chickens can be very social animals and hers used to get very excited on her return from work. You might think it was just them wanting feeding, but she felt the hens were genuinely happy when they saw her stride down the garden towards them. I’m sure it was nothing to do with her being loaded up with left over food stuff from her college!

One of our main reasons for keeping chickens is to help educate our grandson in food production and supply. It sounds grand, but how many kids know how the food chain works? We really liked the thought of him going down to the chicken coop and bringing back some eggs for breakfast. Fat chance of that with our two idlers! We are now planning on buying eggs and planting them for him to find, when he visits.

When the decision was made to get some chickens, we went ahead and built a chicken coop, using palletes and chicken wire (the major expense). Where possible, we like to make things multipurpose so we incorporated wood storage around the chicken coop and run, which provides more security against predators. We also erected portable chicken runs to fence off different areas of the garden where they could help keep weeds down.

Chicken Coop with built in Firewood storage!

One of ‘the girls’, as we refer to them, seems to enjoy sitting on top of the other, but both like to wander around and hide under bushes. They also like to take ‘dust baths’, sometimes in large pots that contain plants. ‘Her Outdoors’ tells me she has had to frogmarch them back to their run a number of times! (How do you frog march a hen?) They are also pretty dim and mistake our vegetables for weeds, so we’ve had to fence off the veg garden.

One of ‘the girls’, as we refer to them, seems to enjoy sitting on top of the other, but both like to wander around and hide under bushes. They also like to take ‘dust baths’, sometimes in large pots that contain plants. ‘Her Outdoors’ tells me she has had to frogmarch them back to their run a number of times! (How do you frog march a hen?) They are also pretty dim and mistake our vegetables for weeds, so we’ve had to fence off the veg garden.

So, are ‘the girls’ paying their way, you might ask? Well in terms of egg laying, definitely not! Not one egg has been laid (unless they’ve hidden it under a bush), but they have started to clear some of the weeds – they are especially fond of the oxalis which grows in abundance. We have become very fond of them, the hens that is, not the oxalis. They have brought some pleasure and entertainment into our lives. So, when it comes time to… well let’s not think about that right now!

If you are thinking of keeping chickens, here are a number of good reasons why you might want to do so;

  • They lay eggs that are fresh, taste great, and are full of nutrition. 
  • Hens have their own individual personalities and are affectionate toward humans.
  • They create excellent manure containing nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.
  • They clear weeds, over-population of crickets, snails, slugs and other pests.
  • They eat fallen fruit from trees before they start rotting and attract bugs.
  • They eat scraps from salads, vegetable peelings, rice, fruits, nuts, and seeds.
  • A low-maintenance animal, they basically need to be fed and have a shelter. 
  • Home-grown chickens taste better and are healthier than factory farmed poultry.